“Education is broad and unrestricted to school”, says Simphiwe ‘Simmah’ Mahlanyana, a 28-year-old training and development freelancer and musician who has an astounding passion for youth development.

Simphiwe, ‘bread and buttered’ in Langa township in Cape Town says he loves seeing young township people make something of themselves. He says his goal is to see young people become successful even beyond the borders of academia, putting emphasis on the broadness of education and the vastness of opportunity that young people can possibly look at.

“I am passionate about youth development, social cohesion, behavioural change, especially getting my hands dirty, with any youth work that has to do with mind shift.”

By ‘mind shift’, Simmah means getting young people to understand that they can still become successful with using their own hands, not having to rely only on school for success. He prides his work with ‘breaking boundaries’ in communities and ‘changing societal expectations’.

In his other life, Simmah is also a passionate musician. “I am equally passionate about singing and music is my other calling. When you don’t see me in the afternoon, at night or on weekends, I am operating as a singer.”

He is a self-acclaimed creative whose goal he says is to create a “natural sound” that describes him and speaks about his life, with him having grown up ‘gay’ and ‘different’, he goes by his nickname ‘Simmah’ on stage.

“I love music and I love expressing myself through singing, I write my own music and I write what I feel at that moment depending on what I’m going through. I’m a vocalist who enjoys singing live, those who know me know that if I’m handed a mic, I perform miracles, literally and figuratively”, says an enthusiastic Simmah.

He currently works as a training and development freelancer, where he is part of a network called the South African Youth Leader’s Network (SAYLN), ‘a network of individuals and organisations working with youth’.

“My mandate behind this initiative is to teach young people about active and adaptive citizenship education. We also invite young people to our bi-annual camp, whereby they get to practice what we’re trying to teach about diversity and the image of social cohesion and active citizenship, basically living with difference.”

On Wednesdays, Simmah also teaches primary school kids IsiXhosa at Forres Preparatory School, in Cape Town where he also deals with youth.

“I’ve done a lot of diversity work where I identified community issues and discovered young people who are struggling to find work. I would formulate a curriculum based on what their needs are within that community.”

Simphiwe was bread and buttered in Kwa-Langa township in Cape Town where he also attended Thembani primary school, he then proceeded to go to study at Langa high school for his high school education. He says already in high school he had been identifying the gaps in his community.

“I myself didn’t have an easy childhood, for someone who grew up, went to school in the township, and was openly gay, it was obviously very difficult to have any inspiration that pushed me to rise up and do/ achieve beyond school”

Simphiwe says he was struck by a great sense of determination when he was in grade 10 in 2002, when he says he told himself that he was not going to allow a basic life for himself.

“I realised that I wanted to do something different in the community and I wanted to be that voice that no one heard and no one wanted to become.”

Simphiwe says he believes that it is because of his bad township experiences that he became who he is today.

“Those experiences made me stronger; they motivated me to be strong instead of angry. I saw an opportunity to educate people because it was evident to me that they didn’t know better.”

“I believe that it was those bad experiences that also moulded and taught me to not be angry and to accept other people and rather to try to educate them.”

After matric, he went to do his tertiary education briefly at ‘Tsiba’ where he says he later dropped out to do an OPS administration course at Rosebank College. He then did “a bit” of Marketing through Damelin correspondence and then he did a public management course in education at Regenesys Business School, Sandton, Gauteng.

Simphiwe says school and formal education is very important, but education is not limited within the borders of a classroom…

“Getting an education is very important especially formal education because it is something to fall back on. On the other hand, school is not for everyone. It’s important that young people pass their matric, but also that they realise that using their hands is equally valuable.”

“Young people should only focus on what they’d like to be in life, it’s important to have a goal and to break it down to years, then to months and to days, in order to ensure a good start, that way they are aiming higher and further.”